Sarah Brightman, who once played an aspiring opera star, clearly aspires to be an opera star.
Brightman, who performs at Wolf Trap tomorrow, was a chorus member in the original London production of "Cats" when she caught the eye and ear of composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, who later married her and began to create works for his "muse." They included the 1984 revue "Song and Dance," and, more famously, 1986's "The Phantom of the Opera," whose heroine Christine was tailored to Brightman's sweetly crystalline, but somewhat limited, soprano. Brightman may have been to the Lloyd Webber manor borne, but her previous success was minor: As a 16-year-old member of Hot Gossip, she'd managed a British Top 10 hit with . . . "I Lost My Heart to a Starship Trooper."
Clearly a lot has changed in two decades. For one thing, Brightman's undergone extensive vocal training over the past 15 years and her voice continues to gain in range, power and confidence. She also continues to explore an astonishingly eclectic repertoire, evident in her new album, "Eden" (Angel). Where else are you going to find songs performed in English, Spanish, Italian, French and Latin, with songwriting credits that range from Handel and Puccini to Kansas and Richard Marx?
Whether diversity or mere dilettantism, this makes for a very uneven album, and an overly sober one, at that. The title track, for instance, is Brightman's cover of the recent techno-pop hit by Hooverphonic, but while the rhythms are modern, lush orchestration and choral support overwhelm the song's implied melancholy. And the opening track, "In Paradisum," is a mismatch of somber melody (the song was inspired by the death of Brightman's grandmother), English boys choir and Indian sitars, all crowding lyrics in Latin. Don't expect a lot of airplay on this one.
As for "Il Mio Cuore Va," translating "My Heart Will Go On" into Italian doesn't rescue the "Titanic" theme from the choppy waters of overexposure. Neither does the wordless "Scene D'Amour," Gabriel Yared's sweeping instrumental motif from "The English Patient," here reduced to a dull variation on the wordless musical theme to "A Man and a Woman." Brightman does better with the lushly romantic Euro-pop of "Tu" and "Bailero," the latter a standout because of a long, languorous melody line that suits her bell-like soprano.
The classical canon is invoked in three songs adapted by Brightman's producer and current companion, Frank Peterson. "Anytime, Anywhere" (one of two songs featuring Brightman lyrics) is a moody remembrance of things past loosely built on an Albinoni air. Brightman and Peterson play a little less freely with Handel's "Lascia Ch'io Pianga" and Puccini's "Nessun Dorma," both of which receive formal, forceful readings.
How odd, then, to segue to Kansas's lugubrious 1977 hit, "Dust in the Wind" (even more portentous this time around), and Richard Marx's "The Last Words You Said." Marx also produced this one cut, and his relative subtlety serves Brightman better than Peterson's heavy hand.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8172.)
Though now divorced from Lloyd Webber, Brightman remains the artist most closely associated with him. Hence "The Andrew Lloyd Webber Collection" (Decca), a 16-song celebration of that mutually beneficial collaboration. Inevitably, there are four songs from "Phantom of the Opera" (including "The Music of the Night," originally intended for Christine instead of the title character), as well as three from "Cats" and two from "Evita." Brightman delivers them well but adds nothing to better-known versions. Then there is the 1992 Barcelona Olympics theme, "Amigos Para Siempre," a hilarious over-the-top Euro-pop duet with Jose Carreras.
The album's standout tracks are the charming "Unexpected Song" (from "Song and Dance"), the elegant "Chanson d'Enfance" (from "Aspects of Love") and "Pie Jesu," the haunting gem from Lloyd Webber's "Requiem," in which Brightman's sweet soprano intertwines with the piercing treble voice of young Paul Miles-Kingston. It remains one of Lloyd Webber's and Brightman's brightest moments.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8173.)
CAPTION: In "Eden," Sarah Brightman explores an eclectic repertoire in several languages, including Latin.